One of the most remarkable thrillers of recent years, and certainly
one of the finest modern Italian films, a scary and disturbing study of
guilt and complicity with an uncommonly absorbing narrative.
Director Gabriele Salvatores is known for the
international hit MEDITERRANEO, which won the Academy Award for Best
Foreign Film back in 1991. IíM NOT SCARED (IO NON HO PUERA) should have
won the same award but didnít (wasnít even nominated--crime!),
despite a high profile U.S. release by Miramax Films in 2004. Salvatores
also directed the surreal horror film
The basis for IíM NOT SCARED was a remarkable Italian
novel by Niccolo Ammaniti, published in English in 2002. The film
adaptation (for once) fully does it justice.
10-year-old Michele lives in an impoverished town in
Southern Italy during the 1970s. Playing with his friends one morning,
Michele discovers a flap in the ground near an abandoned house, which he
lifts to discover a hollowed-out cavern. At the bottom of the cavern a
tiny foot is visible, sticking out of a blanket. Michele neglects to
tell his parents of his find, but notices his father watching the
evening news quite intently.
The next day Michele again peeks into the cavern, and
is confronted by a naked boy residing within. Over the following days
Michele brings the boy food and water, and even ascends into the hole
himself to speak with the boy, whose name is Filippe. Michele initially
believes a local man is keeping Filippe captive, but learns the horrible
truth one night when he spots all the men of the town seated at his
dinner table watching the news: Filippe has been kidnapped and is being
held for ransom, and the entire town is complicit in the crime.
Michele continues feeding Filippe, and even takes him
for a brief run in the countryside. But then Michele makes the mistake
of telling a friend about Filippe. The ďfriendĒ informs his elders and
Michele gets in big trouble. He promises his peeved father heíll never
visit Filippe again, but quickly breaks that promiseÖonly to find that
Filippe has disappeared from the hole.
It seems police have caught on to the fact that the
town is involved in the kidnapping, and the townspeople are growing
desperate. They decide Filippe will have to be killed, and Michele,
having found out where Filippe is being held, races to rescue his friend
from certain death--unaware that itís his own father whoís been tapped
to do the killing!
This film is marked by lush pastoral scenery--perhaps a
bit too lush. Director Gabriele Salvatores was evidently quite
seduced by the sweeping country vistas where the film is set, and
includes a lot of excess footage of endless fields of grain and pretty
cloud formations. Still, the pastoral beauty makes for an affecting
contrast to the horror of the narrative.
Speaking of which, there are some powerful moments of
skin-crawling fear. Accomplished with little-to-no graphic violence,
most of the scariness takes place inside the hole where the kidnapped
boy resides. These scenes are photographed through telephoto lenses with
the outer edges blurred out, accentuating the horror and strangeness
visited upon the protagonistís carefree world.
Itís that sense of the world of childhood, conveyed
with a welcome lack of sentimentality, that really elevates IíM NOT
SCARED. The performance of 13-year-old Giuseppe Cristiano, whose naÔve
viewpoint anchors the proceedings, is simply remarkable, and easily one
of the finest kid performances of recent years, if not of all time.
IíM NOT SCARED (IO NON HO PUERA)
Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Producers: Maurizio Totti, Riccardo Tozzi, Giovanni Stabilini, Marco
Screenplay: Niccolo Ammaniti, Francesca Marciano
(Based on a novel by Niccolo Ammaniti)
Cinematography: Italo Petriccione
Editing: Massimo Fiocchi
Cast: Aitana Snachez-Gijon, Dino Abbrescia, Giorgio Careccia, Antonella
Stefanucci, Riccardo Zinna, Diego Abatantuono, Guiseppe Cristano, Mattia
Di Pierro, Adriana Conserva, Fabio Tetta, Stefano Biase, Fabio Antonacci,